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Volunteers Will Count Dead Birds To Make Downtown Jacksonville Safer During Migration

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Duval Audubon Society
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The Northern Parula is one of the birds that migrate through Northeast Florida in the fall and spring.

Birds keep crashing into Jacksonville buildings, and local conservation groups are seeking volunteers this month to help reduce the number of injuries and deaths.

The Lights Out Northeast Florida initiative is a partnership between the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, the Duval Audubon Society and the St. Johns County Audubon Society. 

Jacksonville Zoo curator Mike Taylor, the local lead for Lights Out, said, “What we’re hoping to get from the surveys is enough data to be able to start approaching buildings and discussing the things they can do that could help save these birds from crashing into their windows.”

He said the project began as a conversation with zoo director Tony Vecchio, and it’s based on similar initiatives throughout the U.S. and Canada that have saved bird lives and businesses a lot of money.

Lights Out volunteers pair up and trek one of four set routes through Downtown Jacksonville at dawn for about an hour once a week, cataloguing and collecting dead or injured birds that have run into buildings, to see what structures they’re hitting the most.

Taylor said businesses, high-rise properties and even houses can reduce their electric bills and save birds by turning off their lights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during the spring and fall migrations.

“Basically four months out of the year,” Taylor said. “I know at least one building in Houston that did this that will save like $5,000 a year just on electricity.”

Taylor says the goal isn’t to shame or attack anyone but to encourage best practices. That could include techniques for modifying windows to ward away birds before they strike.

Carolyn Antman, conservation director for the Duval Audubon Society, is coordinating volunteers for Lights Out.

For the first canvassing event, which took place during the spring migration from March 15 to May 31, Lights Out had 24 volunteers, with no more than eight working on a single day. 

The fall canvass runs from Sept. 15 through Nov. 15. Antman hopes to get 32 volunteers who will canvass four days a week. 

“I really think that people out there want to help. We had the most amazing group of volunteers this spring. Many of them are coming back for the fall,” she said.

Dead birds collected by volunteers are sent to the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida for study, while injured birds are brought back to the Jacksonville Zoo for rehabilitation and release.

Antman believes the data can help show what colors of lights are the most dangerous to birds and what side of a building is most dangerous. 

According to the Duval Audubon Society, 3.5 billion birds travel through what’s called the Atlantic Flyway twice a year, and the path goes right through Northeast Florida.

“Jacksonville is the second-largest area for birds to migrate over the East Coast,” Antman said. “We just want to make it a safer place for them.”

Get more information on Lights Out Northeast Florida on the Duval Audubon website and sign up here to volunteer.

Raymon Troncoso can be reached at rtroncoso@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RayTroncoso.